New arena at Will Rogers takes shape

Scott Nishimura

The proposed Will Rogers Memorial Center arena continues to take shape as voters head for a Nov. 4 election to decide whether to approve new taxes to help pay for the $450 million facility.

Potential configurations would range from 9,000 seats for rodeo to 12,000 for basketball and ice shows, and up to 14,000 for concerts, a flexible venue that the Metroplex doesn’t have today, Fort Worth city and business leaders touting the arena say.

It would also likely become home to the rodeo during the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo’s annual month-long run, allowing the Stock Show to use the historic, 5,700-seat Will Rogers Coliseum for other programming.

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“It’s a really good size for a niche that hasn’t been filled here, and it’ll be a really high quality,” Mayor Betsy Price said in an interview.

“Fort Worth has 800,000 folks and Tarrant County is pushing 2 million, and the west side of the Metroplex is a pretty good market in itself,” said Mike Groomer, president of Event Facilities Fort Worth, a nonprofit that has paid for improvements at Will Rogers for years and has guaranteed to pay half the arena’s cost and cap the city’s expense at $225 million.

“If we were a freestanding community, we would already have a facility like this from a demand standpoint,” he said in an interview. “We think there’s opportunity for concerts and things that Fort Worth doesn’t already get. There’s a market on the west side that may not go to Dallas for certain acts.”

Conceptually, the arena could have up to two clubs, including a new Backstage Club, and have up to 30 luxury suites. The second club could double as a media area.

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As a concert venue, the arena would fit beneath the 20,000-seat American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The arena could draw concerts not aiming for that size attendance, or ones making second swings through Texas, city and business leaders say.

As a basketball venue, it will have nearly double the capacity of TCU’s Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, which is under renovation. The arena would meet the requirements for NCAA men’s and women’s regional tournaments, city and business leaders say. TCU could use it for premier games.

“It would be available,” Groomer said. Even after Daniel-Meyer’s renovations, “they’ll still have the smallest venue in the Big 12.”

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The arena will also be marketed at circuses and ice shows that once performed at the Fort Worth Convention Center but moved away, Kirk Slaughter, the city’s public events director, said in an interview.

“This is a market that used to come to Fort Worth,” Slaughter said. “Those now to go to AAC or the (7,000-seat) Allen Event Center” north of Dallas.

World Wresting Entertainment shows will be another target, he said.

The new arena will allow Will Rogers to try and book multiple events on the same dates, Slaughter said.

The city’s recent years’ expansions at Will Rogers, for example, allowed the bookings of the Appaloosa Horse Club National Championship and American Paint Horse Association Youth World Championship, which ran this summer in Fort Worth at the same time for the second year in a row.

“Maybe we can bring another show in at the same time,” Slaughter said.

The arena will likely be privately managed, but owned by the city. “There’s a lot of trends in privatizing things today,” Groomer said.

The public part of the cost would come from several sources, principally:

* Voter-approved taxes, 15 percent. Fort Worth voters will be asked on Nov. 4 to approve a tax on tickets to events held at the arena, capped at 10 percent of the ticket price; a tax on parking in a new garage, capped at $5 of the total parking charge at the time of the arena’s first public event; and a tax on each stall or pen used by livestock during events at the arena, capped at $1 a day and up to $20 per event.

* State share of hotel, sales, and mixed-beverage taxes in a three-mile radius around Will Rogers, 18 percent. A new state law specific to the Fort Worth situation allowed incremental growth from 2013 and beyond to be set aside in an escrow for the arena. So far this year, $800,000 has been set aside, Susan Alanis, an assistant city manager, said.

* City share of the same taxes from the three-mile radius, 14 percent. If voters approve the Nov. 4 measures, the City Council soon after will vote on whether to set aside increments of the hotel, sales and mixed-beverage taxes.​